“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” ~ Julia Child
This was one of the first things I ever learned to cook. My Nana taught me in her little kitchen. I was still so young that Pa had to bring an old wooden crate upstairs for me to stand on so that I could reach the bench and the stove.
Nana called this ‘Mum’s Soup’, and it is one of the easiest, heartiest and most delicious meals I know. It is comfort in a bowl, and it’s also economical. For Nana, who grew up during the Depression, a meal needed to be economical or it was forever off the menu.
There was never any kind of written recipe for this soup. It’s the sort of thing you throw together by eye, with simple kitchen staples. It’s a recipe that is passed from mother to child by word of mouth, and shared hours bent over chopping board or simmering pot.
This takes less than ten minutes prep, and then two hours cooking time. The soup freezes well, and will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for five days.
Serve it on its own, with crusty fresh bread, buttered toast or a big salad.
1 cup of diced bacon or speck (or a ham hock), 1 large onion, 2 carrots, 1 large potato, 2 to three ribs of celery, two litres of water and one to two stock-cubes or teaspoons of stock powder – or use 2 litres of homemade stock or bone broth, 1 cup of dried soup mix (which should contain a mix of things such as pearl barley, lentils and split peas), 2 large bay leaves, olive oil, a 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste.
*Optional but good – the kernels from a fresh cob of corn, a tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley.
**Make sure to have a little extra water on hand in case you need it.
Set your corn and parsley aside for now. We’ll add them later.
Chop all of the vegetables and bacon into small pieces. It’s fine for your dice to be a bit rough. After all, this is a rustic, homestyle soup.
I have used a piece of speck instead of bacon in this recipe. It’s not quite as salty or as fatty as bacon. But just use whatever you have to hand. Make sure to remove the rind and discard it when you are cutting up the meat.
Pour a slug of good olive oil into the bottom of your big heavy-bottomed soup pot and place the pan on a medium heat. Throw in all of the vegetables and bacon pieces, and fry off until they have softened, are fragrant, and have coloured up a little. This brown caramelisation makes a big difference to the end flavour.
Make sure you have picked over your dried soup mix and removed any stones, badly shrivelled items or foreign material that may have found its way into the mix.
Throw your soup mix into the pot and give everything a good stir for another minute or so.
Then add the stock, or water and stock cubes. Chuck your bay leaves in too.
Bring to boil and then take it back to a slow simmer. It won’t look very exciting yet. But that’s okay.
Cook for one and a half to two hours.Stir occasionally.
About fifteen minutes before you want to serve the soup, slice the kernels of corn off the cob with a sharp knife and finely chop your parsley. Check that all other soup ingredients are soft. If not, let them cook a little longer.
Add the corn and parsley to the soup if you’re using them. If the soup is very thick, add in some extra water. Stir well. Cook for a further ten to fifteen minutes on simmer. The corn will retain a pleasing crunch, adding a lovely texture to the soup.
If you are using a ham hock, use tongs to carefully lift the hock from the soup pot. Carefully shred the meat off the bone with forks, and add it back into the pot.
Fish out the bay leaves. You’re finished with those.
Serve and enjoy!